# Counting on fingers

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about fingers that fly. Think about the different ways we use our fingers and what happens when we add speed. Go where the prompt leads.

I thought about the use young children make of their fingers when counting. It may increase their speed and ease of calculation in the beginning, but continued use tends to slow them down.

I also thought about magicians, and how the speed of their fingers amazes us with tricks and sleight of hand.

Combining both thoughts brought me to the mathemagician Arthur Benjamin who never ceases to astound with his calculations.

Are you a math whiz, solving complicated problems and making calculations with large numbers effortlessly, or do you still need to count on your fingers at times?

I don’t think I was ever what would be considered a maths whiz, but I did have my confidence in maths taught out of me. Sadly, I think this happens to far too many.

Many children who have been provided experiences with number and engaged in discussions about number from a young age develop strong understandings and are able to calculate with little effort, arriving at answers almost intuitively. While it can be good to help them develop metacognition by asking them to explain how they knew, or how they worked it out, sometimes they don’t know how—they just know.

While some children need to be taught methods of working out answers, requiring maths intuitive thinkers to use the same working can cause them to second-guess themselves and to lose confidence by breaking what they know down into steps that only cause confusion.

I was interested to hear Arthur Benjamin’s plan for improving maths education when he is made “Czar of Mathematics”.

His suggestions relate more to high school than primary, but probability and statistics still have their place in the early years, as I’ve shown with many readilearn resources.

For my response to Charli’s prompt, I’ve considered what may occur if a child’s intuition with maths is neither appreciated nor encouraged.

Counting on fingers
Everyone said she had a way with numbers. Even when still in nappies she was counting effortlessly to large numbers in multiples of twos, fives and tens as well as ones. The parents didn’t dare think they’d bred a genius, an outlier. They wished for an ordinary child who fitted in, unnoticed, like them.  They strove to inhibit her talent and discourage her enthusiasm. She tried to hide her ability by delaying responses with finger actions resembling calculation aids. But they slowed her none and flew too fast, earning her the nickname “Flying fingers” and ridicule instead of appreciation.

# Escape to anywhere

We sometimes think of reading as a form of escapism. But many stories, including those in picture books, feature an escape as part of the complication or resolution.

It doesn’t require much thought to create a list. Here are just a few to start:

By Charles Perrault, Harry Clarke (ill.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jack and the Beanstalk – Jack escapes from the giant

Hansel and Gretel – the children escape from the witch

Snow White – escapes death ordered by the jealous queen

The Three Pigs – escape from the Big Bad Wolf

The Lion and the Mouse – the mouse helps the lion escape the hunter’s trap

The Gingerbread Man – escapes from the oven and those who pursue him

I had a little more difficulty in finding modern tales involving an escape, but here are a few:

#6 Modern tales

by Ian Whybrow – father and son mouse escape the claws of the cat

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson – the mouse uses his wiles to escape being eaten

Wombat Stew by Marcia Vaughan – Wombat’s friends help him escape being Dingo’s dinner

Fox and Fine Feathers by Narelle Oliver – with the help of the nightjar the birds escape being a feast for fox

Run, Hare, Run! The story of a drawing by John Winch – the rabbit has numerous attempts at escaping the hunter but is caught, and finally freed

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen – the family escapes from the bear encountered in a cave

A new favourite

This Mo Willems story is an innovation on the traditional tale of Goldilocks escaping from the three bears. In Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, Goldilocks has a lucky escape out the back door just as the dinosaurs return home through the front door. Willems concludes his story with two morals, one for the dinosaurs:

# Lock the back door!

And one for Goldilocks:

# If you ever find yourself in the wrong story: leave.

What a great philosophy that we could perhaps employ more often. If we don’t like where we’re at, just leave. Life’s decisions are not always that easy though.

I rather like the idea of characters appearing in the wrong story. What a great topic for discussion with children and a wonderful stimulus for their writing.

• What if the Big Bad Wolf knocked on the Giant’s door?
• What if the Three Pigs chased the Gingerbread Man?
• What if Goldilocks came to the house of Red Riding Hood’s grandma?
• What if?

In fact, Nick Bland has written a story that utilises this concept. In The Wrong Book, Nicholas Ickle tries to tell his story but keeps getting interrupted by other characters such as an elephant, monsters, a queen and a pirate. Nicholas tells them that they are in the wrong book and to go away. By the time they leave, we get to the end of the book and there is no time for him to tell his story.

But what if the story characters didn’t want to be in the book at all, and decide to escape? How would they escape? What would the writers do if their characters revolted and walked off the job?

Where could I escape to if not picture books? Here’s my contribution. I hope you like it.

Let’s get out of here

Delaying the inevitable, she was picking wildflowers when she heard sobbing. She gasped to see him cowering behind the bushes but ignored instructions to avoid strangers.

“What’s wrong?”

“I can’t do it anymore. Every day: first the pigs; then your grandma. They’ve painted me bad. I’m not. I’m –“

A giant with a goose crash-landed beside them.

“I’ll not let that nasty boy steal my goose, again. And he says I’m bad.”

A diverse troupe in T-shirts emblazoned “Freedom for princesses” appeared.

“We want out,” they all chanted.

A witch magicked a rocket from a pinecone and everyone disappeared.